If a picture is worth a thousand words,
"On paper, we seem to be a better team," Duncan sighed. "But we haven't been able to put it together. We've had a crap season so far."
Crap, of course, is a relative term. Crap seasons belong to teams such as the one that beat the Spurs on Monday. The Spurs haven't experience
But the Spurs don't measure themselves with the familiar scale. They measure themselves by division titles, of which they have seven in the Duncan era. They measure themselves by conference finals appearances, a number that stands at six in the last 12 years. And they measure themselves by championships. Four times the Spurs have made the NBA Finals since Duncan came on board. Four times they have won it. Since '97, the Spurs have won 69.6 percent of their games, the best winning percentage in professional sports. Not the NBA.
So the Spurs don't see 45 wins. They see eighth place in the Western Conference standings. They see a declining win total for the fourth straight season. They see regression.
Some things have been beyond their control. Age, for one. Duncan turns 34 this month, and with 160 career playoff appearances, he's essentially tacked on two extra seasons to his battered knees. He has managed to stay healthy, thanks in no small part to coach
These are all valid excuses. But as the Spurs know, their issues run deeper. In an attempt to rejuvenate the roster, San Antonio dumped former mainstays
"It took a lot longer than usual to get them acclimated and to get them to feel comfortable in the system," Popovich said. "It was tough. Some guys deferred for too long or too much. Other guys picked things up quicker than some. It was always kind of a mish-mosh. It was difficult to get that trust going. It's a real mercurial thing. You've got to really gain that during games. Five people have to react a certain way. It took significantly longer than usual to get everybody to trust each other in a variety of situations, especially in fourth quarters."
The Spurs' defense has come under the most scrutiny. San Antonio has finished in the top five in points allowed per 100 possessions every season with Duncan. But this year they have slipped to ninth, giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions. But the offense has suffered, too. The numbers are misleading: San Antonio is seventh in field-goal percentage and has the league's most productive bench, leading in points (39.4), rebounds (17.5) and assists (8.8) through Tuesday. But scouts say the Spurs' playbook has been chopped in half, a byproduct of working in so many new players. The patient read-and-react system has been stripped down, replaced by a steady diet of bland pick-and-rolls and post-ups.
The pieces don't fit. The Spurs don't run (they rank 23rd in pace) and have point guards who don't like to pass in transition, anyway. Parker's average of 5.7 assists puts him in the
Hill, McDyess and
If we are witnessing the demise of San Antonio, it won't be for long. The Spurs have a stud in center